How this lauded-but-furloughed pastry chef turned her home kitchen into a mini cookie empire

When Uyen Kirshenbaum—the executive pastry chef for Chef David LeFevre’s trio of famed Manhattan Beach restaurants: The Arthur J, Manhattan Beach Post, and Fishing with Dynamite—was furloughed, it was a reality many other mothers faced.

But her furlough wasn’t because there was a lack of work—Arthur J was “unstoppable to our surprise,” Kirshenbaum noted, saying the restaurant was busier during some COVID days than those during regular service—nor a lack of recognition—Kirshenbaum’s pastry work is lauded throughout the Los Angeles region, from her work with LeFevre to being a part of Michelin-starred Guy Savoy’s team.

“I had the option to come and help them with take-out, but I have two kids,” Kirshenbaum said. “With daycare effectively shut down, there was just no option.”

At home enduring the joyful albeit tiring throes of focusing on her children 24/7, paired with missing her job running three commercial kitchens, Kirshenbaum returned to her more down-to-earth baking roots. Eschewing the often elaborate concoctions drummed up on her professional side—where things like coconut passion fruit cakes would be made with breads that are as crusty as they are delicate—she decided to focus specifically on the humble cookie.

“I had never felt an exhaustion like I do now with my kids,” Kirshenbaum said. “I don’t mean that in a purely negative way, but this whole quarantine situation has forced me to give a lot of attention. It’s been a challenge—a really great personal challenge but a challenge nonetheless. Having something of your own to focus on, like this baking company, has really helped balance that challenge.”

As requests like, “Can you bake a batch of cookies for my Mom?” began rolling in, the idea to formalize Kirsh Baking Company began to materialize.

Jeff [left] and Uyen Kirschbaum [right] with their two children on the day of their website launch. Courtesy of the Kirshbaums.

Launching her website formally on May 1, Kirshenbaum began to offer everything from classics—snickerdoodles, lemon poppy, salted chocolate chip—to gluten- and dairy-free cookies that are dubbed “Jeff’s Collection,” named after her husband, and including flavors like cherry almond, rocky road and coconut joy.

Jeff, a general manager at Simmzy’s in Belmont Shore, who was also furloughed due to the pandemic, manages the website.

“To be honest, I was in the weeds the first week—I was not expecting that kind of business,” Kirshenbaum said. “We got crushed. Orders I honestly wasn’t expecting—probably driven from friends in the industry but nonetheless a lot of orders. I honestly didn’t know where it was gonna go but it’s going pretty well.”

“Pretty well” is putting it lightly, as orders for Mom has now expanded into corporate gifting and cookies being delivered to Los Angeles and beyond.

Her embarking on what is essentially a cottage business—home kitchens with licenses to sell in bulk, the space where some of Long Beach’s most known brick-and-mortars like The Pie Bar and Gusto Bread originated from—marks a shift as COVID alters the way we eat. And vice versa, as many cottage business owners have invaded commercial kitchens attached to largely empty restaurants due to limited dine-in options.

“This doesn’t mean I am not happy going back to my job; I love the Simms Restaurant Group and always will but this is mine on the side,” Kirshenbaum said. “It’s my own. I can do whatever I want. I can change the cookie flavors. It’s fun.

And it’s really about turning my profession back into a hobby. A lot of people turn their hobbies into professions if they have that privilege and it really changes the dynamic of your work. An employer depends on you, you depend on them for a paycheck; it’s a different thing. It was truly wonderful to return back to baking in this way.”

Kirsh Baking Company has free shipping and delivery in Long Beach; use the code LBCLOVE. Orders can be taken by clicking here.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 19 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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